Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Talking the Talk

Ever have a conversation with yourself inside your head? Y’know, when you’re fighting with your friend or partner, and you imagine how your next conversation is going to pan out: “I didn’t sleep with her! I merely suggested that she was attractive.” “Oh, how do you expect me to react to that??” “There’s no reaction needed, that’s the point! I love you!” “Oh, well,that’s okay then…c’mere” (big hug).

This is called transtalk * when you imagine a conversation you’re going to have (or replay one that’s just finished) and line up the perfect dialogue and reaction that typically favours yourself in the exchange. Of course, most of the imaginary dialogue will be with someone you know quite well, so you’re basing their reaction on how you perceive their characterisation, and how they feel about you. In your head, the conversation plays to your corner, and you end up being the victor. More importantly, you save those nuggets of rapport for the next time you see them in order to wow them with your scathing insight or added argument.

Pitching is a lot like this. You spend a lot of time mumbling to yourself, outlining the way you’re going to talk and pitch, and you imagine their reactions so you can have the perfect response or idea at hand to impress them at the meeting. In your head, it goes great, but just like transtalk, the reality of the exchange immediately goes into an unforeseen tangent.

This tangent throws your line of thinking and all of a sudden, your carefully prepared dialogue seems inappropriate or clunky or contrived. As you begin to talk, your body becomes all too aware of itself. Your posture. Hands moving. Their looks towards you. Even the physical sensation of your lips moving to impart your voice seems to be incongruous in some way. It’s like you’ve stepped out of your body and are watching the show thinking: “who is that guy??”

Don’t worry though. Tangents are good. They’re your friend. Pitches frighten us because it’s a professional meeting where a certain level of preparation and presentation is expected. It’s naturally nerve-wracking. However, it’s okay to slip into that tangent that the exec has thrown because you will know all the key details of your story, and it’s about getting that across in the best way possible. Relaxed and informal is your best bet. Go with the flow.

If the exec is chatting about football and the pitch hasn’t started yet, simply try to segue the conversation into your pitch. This way you can begin your spiel with a natural ease rather than waiting for the ‘go’ from him. The best pitches occur when you’re not even called in to pitch, i.e. you’re completely unprepared. They’ve read your spec, like your work, and would like to meet. You shake hands, have the diet coke, a nice chat and then the question: “so what are you working on now?” or “what else have you got?” “Oh, I’m tinkering with a sci-fi thriller at the moment, nearly done with that”. “Yeah, what’s it about?”

“What’s it about?” The bastard. Now it’s a pitch. But it doesn’t feel like a pitch. A casual and easygoing tone has been established because of the friendly meet, and even though you don’t have any witty one-liners or succinct phrases at hand to explain your project, your pitch goes surprisingly well because the brain has automatically attached itself to what the story is and what it’s about. Hey, your natural witty nature has even come up with a few amusing asides. Shake hands, leave office and go for a drink. (The fact that you will never hear from the exec gain is beside the point.)

Over-preparation for pitches can stymie us with our words and expression because we get nervous standing in front of the suit. A good knowledge of your characters and story will get you through because your natural communicative instincts will dreg up the salient details in a neat and inviting fashion. Save the transtalk for the arguments at home.


* not a real word

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

As you begin to talk, your body becomes all too aware of itself. Your posture. Hands moving. Their looks towards you. Even the physical sensation of your lips moving to impart your voice seems to be incongruous in some way. It’s like you’ve stepped out of your body and are watching the show thinking: “who is that guy??”
- You've just described what an actor would refer to as Stage Fright.

Tim Clague said...

That's why you have to practise it. Mumbling to yourself is NOT practising. Getting together with another writer and having to answer their awkward (ie drat that's true) questions is the way to go. I'll always remember how nervous you got Danny pitching to me and Suki. But better to get those nerves out of the way now rather than in a real meeting.

Danny Stack said...

Absolutely, Tim. That was invaluable practice, to be sure. Helped me settle down for Cannes, big time.

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